Movin' out

I'm off to a new location, although I'll keep this around for a bit...probably no one chomping at the big to snare solomonisaacs.blogspot.com. Big hope for the new address, a return to frequency, an expansion of interests, mo' bells and whistles, who knows? Find it Here:



Tierney at it again

John Tierney continued his spate of columns arguing for Social Security privatization Saturday. Having already perpetuated myths about Chile's dreadful tangle with privatization, this time he turned to spreading some common misconceptions about Social Security's trust funds. Tierney makes a common, if disingenous plea, privatization is the only way we can keep the trust funds from being spent...since no one can control Congress' spending urges, we should protect ourselves by putting the money where they can't get it--in personal accounts.


Poulenc blogging

New favorite things...the short piano works of Francis Poulenc, specifically, this recording by Gabriel Tacchino. If you only know the choral pieces (as I did), the piano pieces are a wonderful distillation of everything that makes that work so distinctive: the humor, the range of colors and tones wrung from spare harmonies. But the piano pieces have something more--a deep, inviting warmth. This Poulenc, personal, ironic, passionate, should be enough to silence anyone who has acccused him of being cold and mechanistic. The recording itself (while I don't have anything to compare it to as yet) is quite fine as well. Tacchino has the sort of light, nimble touch that immediately puts a smile on your face, but when the time comes, he doesn't hesitate to to extract every last drop of knowing humanity out of these simple, yet worldly little essays.


You got me....

Kevin Drum asks the million dollar question today: why has Bush gone and blown all his political capital on the loser Social Security debate? Its a question that will linger long after this whole thing has blown over, and, indeed, would probably already be hailed as one of the great political swan dives of our time if the press, public, not to mention liberals didn't accord Bush a sort of super-human political infalliability.

But what has been the source of that perception of infalliability so far? Three things: a willingness to push a lowest common demoninator popular sentiment, no matter what the cost in lies and red ink; a right wing machine that only has its (tiny) centrist wing to lose; and a strong coalition of business interests willing to pony up the cash. Unfortunately for G2, the Social Security push is missing two of those things in a major way: its popularity with the public is simply not very resilient (something the pollsters really should have told him in December) and there are a slew more Republicans than just those stuck up Northeasterners that want nothing to do with gutting the program a large number of their constituents rely on.

But that still begs the question: why did he do it? At this point, my guess has got to be sheer unbridled ignorance of the situation. Someone pitched this to Bush, Rove, whoever, as an easy issue with broad appeal. They needed a big domestic issue for the second term because they didn't have anything left to stay relevant, and, as we have seen time and again in this White House, once a decision is made, backtracking on it becomes a form heresy.

So that's it? They didn't have anything better to do and privatization gained some traction? In part, I think it may be just that simple. The other component is the disconnect between the logic of the Washington think tank world, that has been training very smart people to like privatization for 20 plus years, and the rest of the country. The logic of privatization is, quite simply, very attractive to a large number of people in power because they have been learning it for a long time now. The effect of this groupthink, and how out of step it is with popular opinion is not necessarily obvious, but it should not be underestimated. This is the conservative movement catching up with itself, as expected.


Abortion trickery

No good very bad Brooks today; and a nice post from Ed Kilgore with all the grisly details on the 10-car logic pile-up contained therein.

Of the many sleights of hand Brooks has developed to excuse the excesses of the Christian right, perhaps my personal favorite is the "Christian right as a justified abusive spouse" tack, on view here. Basically: all the bullying, Constitution bashing, intolerance, disregard for the rule of law and other bad behavior that comes out of the right is not pretty but, well, liberals left them no other choice, i.e., "I don't want to hurt you, but you just make me so mad!"


War of the culture persuasion

Well, let me come out of hibernation for a moment to comment on the recent back and forth regarding whether Dems should "take on" the entertainment industry. Ed Kilgore and others favor this, while Matt Yglesias has been an outspoken opponent.

I agree with a little of both. I certainly don't want to see more Joe Lieberman posturing, as Matt fears--this is merely a small scale version of the Dems' general misconseption about the value of aping Republican positions and rhetoric. It will pay off for a few individual politicians, maybe, but it horrifies the base and it has no relationship to a larger liberal vision.

That said, there is another route for Democrats beyond empty moralizing and fundamentalist pandering. And one they already instinctively sympathize with. As many have pointed out, the "crap culture breeds teen sociopaths" canard doesn't actually resonate with people, becuase they know its not very true beyond some research that is inconclusive at best, impossible at worst.

So why are all these red staters up in arms against culture? What's the seed of truth in their anger beyond all the trumped up political hobbyhorses about homosexuality and promiscuity and talking sponges? It's the fact that mainstream culture is for the most part, actually, well, crap.

And PS, this is not news to liberals. The great swath of America that is the target of the culture warriors doesn't lie somewhere to the left of Rush Limbaugh and the 700 club, but squarely between those charlatans and your friends who haven't turned on the radio except to listen to NPR in the last decade.

I'm not saying there's any hope of an alliance between these two extremes that care deeply about the middle 80 percent, but that these struggles are, in some sense, the same. The only difference is that liberals are refusing to fight right now.

This isn't about stealing Pat Robertson's market share. It's about reclaiming the government-culture intersection that liberals used to care deeply about, but have been running scared from for decades now. It says that the culture that makes this a country worth living in shouldn't always have to submit to the whims of profit, and that the government is the right actor to take up the slack.

Now, this obviously isn't some magic key to winning elections in the near term, but its the long term work that needs to be done. Government has never divorced itself from culture, yet liberals, frightened by the costs of the 1990s culture wars, have decided they can get along without engaging in that debate. And it is part and parcel of the cut your losses til you have nothing left mentality that is so detrimental to liberalism today.



Jeez. It's been a long time, huh...well, to get started, Eric Alterman is on the warpath about a column by Cathy Young the other week that insinuated he was an anti-semite (of the self hating Jew sort). Good for him. The Boston Globe should be doing better, for humanity's sake. Here's the email I wrote to their Editorial page editor, Alterman has all the contact info listed, you should send something too...

From: "Alex Baker" Add Address to Address Book
To: n_king@globe.com
Cc: whatliberalmedia@aol.com
Date: 02/15/2005 11:24 PM
Subject: RE: Cathy Young column

Dear Mr. King,

I would like to add my voice to what I am sure is already a chorus
disapproving of Cathy Young's column "When Jews Wax Anri-Semitic". If the
Globe is to maintain its credibility, I think it must deem Young's column
outside the bounds of civil public discourse.

The label of anti-semitism is a serious and incendiary charge. Applying it
to figures with public reputations, academic, political or otherwise, is a
heavy business and should rightfully lead to serious damage to a public
figure's credibility and standing. So the notion that Eric Alterman, a
leading public intellectual, a prominent Jewish writer and speaker, a
major voice in debates over U.S. policy in the Middle East and towards
Israel, should have the label of anti-semitism attached to him is,
frankly, perverse.

Anyone is welcome to disagree with Alterman's views about Israel, about
the peace process, or about his refusal to condemn the incident with the
Muslim group and the Auschwitz memorial. But Young is not arguing with
Alterman. She doesn't like his views about foreign policy so she levels an
accusation meant to discredit and humiliate him in the hope that it does
the job instead. This is character assassination by insinuation, and if
our media institutions are to mean anything, it should be kept in the
tabloids and on the Internet where it belongs.

Publishing that column cheapened your newspaper's standards, cheapened the
seriousness of bigotry towards Jews, and cheapened the public discourse. I
do hope you can find a way to remedy the situation.


Alex Baker
New York, NY


Mars, Bitches!!!

I wonder if there are a lot of NASA employees who are really bummed tonight? I have to say, I would totally support the Mars initiative if he threw that in the speech. We should totally go to Mars. Bitches. Does Halliburton have interests in the space business?


Snark and quibbles

1. I wish Bush and other conservatives for that matter would stop taking credit for any election in any formerly corrupt authoritarian state anywhere. I mean, unless they killed Arafat somehow. That said, the $350 million for Palestine is great...way to put money where the mouth is.

2. Does anyone think the flypaper and humanitarian rationales for the war are kind of at odds? I can understand different people supporting them at different times, but it doesn't seem like they should get to coexist in one speech, i.e. you can have a democracy, but we're going to fight a guerilla war of attrition with terrorists at the same time.

3. No big surprises on the Social Security stuff. Check out the background briefing from ealier today, and the CBPP analysis of it.

4. Oh man, Harry Reid is making me so bored...and we haven't even gotten to the robotress yet! Really makes you appreciate John Kerry's telegenic skills.

He's still talking. But I don't care. God's children vs. tax breaks? I read the text of this before and it sounded good.

5. Shit. It's worse with her. Those eyes are so piercing.

6. Is there any corollary for the government skipping out on treasury bonds it owes itself by changing the law?

7. There has been very little insight into the administration's internal thought process on Social Security, and I think that information gap is starting to show. Are people really thinking about this? Really? Or did he just make some decision, and everyone has been toeing the line.

8. Fuck this Linda Douglas woman on ABC. "These responses to Social Security I've been getting from the Democrats are very shrill." You're shrill. Asshole.

9. Peter Jennings splitting the private/personal account difference. Totally fucking weak. You know what you're doing, Peter Jennings, just use the goddamn word.

10. Off-loading price indexing on Tim Penny was soooo weak. Duh...who would think that Bush's own Social Security commission put that on the table 4 years ago? Oh no, it was all Tim Penny's idea. I don't know who the idiots that understand benefit indexation are, but Bush apparently thinks they are out there and ripe for the suckering.


The Jack Bauer Rules?

I must say, the return of 24 (awesome) in tandem with some using 24-esque scenarios to absolve Alberto Gonzales of his torture-friendly legal opinions (awesomely scary) is a little surreal. It gives one a little window into just how deep the fictionalization of reality is for the armchair terror warriors--their appeal bears little resemblance to the complicated, nuanced and often mundane thing we call reality. Instead, they truly believe that global terrorism somehow rockets 'reality' off its moorings and makes the action movie, and the action movie's morals, come ass-kickingly alive.

That said, the distinction between the hypothetical "terrorist in NYC who knows where the nuke is" and liberalizing U.S. code to allow or at least weasel around torture needs to be addressed head on. Dry proof about the low efficacy of torture in obtaining reliable information, the mushy question of proportional losses in our soft power from torture scandals, and predictions of retaliation against American troops all seem to fade away in the face of the "Jack Bauer" hypothesis. In the end we have to be realistic about what "laws" and "standards" really are. They don't represent our ultimate moral choice in every instance. Life is messy. Some considerations trump others that did not trump the last time. That is ok. Jack Bauer doesn't need to be thrown in jail cuz he tortured away the imminent nuclear holocaust.

Laws on the other hand? They're not really for the Jack Bauers and historical singularities. They are for Joe Schmo who doesn't have any better ideas than torture. For states that have something to prove even if they have no idea how to go about proving it. That is who you want anti-torture laws for. Our laws don't provide for every possibility--that's why we insist on a subjective human element mediating between the law and punishments. But laws do set standards, and they make clear which principles are not to be trifled with lightly.